- Two Preliminary Questions To Ask
i. Is it helpful? (verse 23)
ii. Is it brotherly (verse 24)
- Three Practical Scenarios To Consider
i. The marketplace - don't ask - conscience clear (verse 25)
ii. The pagan home - don't ask - conscience clear (verse 27)
iii. Anywhere - told - don't eat - for other's conscience (verse 28)
- Two Principles The Christian Should Live By
i. Do all to God's glory (verse 31)
ii. Do nothing to offend (verse 32-11:1)
If you have been with us, you'll know that over the last number of weeks, quite a few weeks, from chapter 8 of our study we have been in the section of this first epistle that deals with meat that is offered to idols in the pagan temple in Corinth, and whether it is right - both theologically and practically - for the believers in Corinth to eat of that meat offered to idols. We've been looking at the responsibility that we have with regards to our Christian liberty - not only before God and to ourselves and our own spiritual development, but to our brethren and sisters in Christ, particularly, we've seen, our weaker brothers in the Lord. So, we're coming to the very end of that section and the conclusion of his thoughts on all these themes - and let me say that the reason why we've taken so much time going through this section (we could almost have summarised it all in one or two evenings), but the reason why we've been taking so much time over it is because there are so many principles that are related to the meat offered to idols that bear and have significance to many issues that Christians are facing today. The principles behind Paul's teaching contemporary to these Corinthians with regards to the meat offered to idols, is applicable to many many grey areas and controversial issues that Christians have to deal with in our 21st century age.
So we're coming to Paul's summary, and we're starting to read at verse 23. Paul says, and he has reiterated this phrase before in chapter 6 verse 12: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved".
Now we're coming tonight to the question of how to use your liberty for the Lord - how can you use this liberty for the Lord? Really it's a summary of everything that we've been taught in these few chapters from chapter 8 so far. We find that Paul gives us the crux of the matter - if you're wanting to fulfil all of his teaching that he has taught us from chapter 8, it could be encapsulated in verse 31: 'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God'. That is Paul's central message in this chapter, and even this section, but we could also say in the biblical sense, taking a panoramic view of the whole of the Scriptures, that this is the central message of the Bible to the believer - no matter what age that believer lives in. You remember that the Lord Jesus in Matthew's gospel chapter 22 verse 36, there was a lawyer came to test Him, and he said: 'Which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'.
Whatsoever ye do, whether ye eat or drink, do all - whatever it is that you do - do it to the glory of God, for the benefit of God's glory and for the benefit of your brothers. Many of you will be familiar from your Sunday School days with the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the first question and it's answer are these: 'What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever'. The catechism is correct, that the pinnacle of man's existence is to glorify God and to enjoy God with all that is in him, to bless His holy name. Anything and everything that a Christian does ought to be done for the glory of God. This is Paul's chief point, he's summing up the whole of these matters - is it right to eat the meat, is it right not to eat the meat, is it right to go to the temple to eat it, is it right to go to your neighbour's house to eat it, is it right to go down to the marketplace and buy meat that's probably been sacrificed to idols? Is it right or is it not? As we come into our own 21st century, and with all the issues that Christians have to face with regards to whether this grey area is sin or not, whether this matter that the Bible doesn't speak about is sin or not, here is the rule that will help us, and indeed - I believe - will guide us, categorically and finally, in the right direction: whatever you do, whether you eat or drink or whatsoever it is, do it to the glory of God - and if you can't do it to the glory of God, don't do it at all!
So liberty, in the final analysis, the freedom that we have in Christ, has to be regulated by how it glorifies God. The reason, if you like, that that liberty has been given to us in the first place, the reason why we have been set free in Jesus Christ, is for that chief purpose: to glorify God. Now we don't have time, and we hadn't in these weeks, to go through all the difficult questionable issues that face Christians in our modern age. But it would be easy, and I think many are doing it today, to conclude: 'Look, I'm free in Christ, I've been saved by grace, I've been forgiven, I'm not regulated by laws. I'm not an Old Testament Christian, I'm New Testament Christian regulated by the principles of grace! Therefore I'm free, and I can do what I like!'. But Paul is clearly coming in at the end of this great thesis, and we'll see tonight that he is laying down again the rights that we have in the liberty of Christ, but he's also warning us: be careful how you use your liberty, and don't ignore the fact that the liberty has been given to you in the first instance to chiefly glorify God in freedom.
God has set us free to glorify His holy name. He's set us free to enjoy Him - not chiefly to enjoy ourselves, but to glorify God - and as one modern writer, John Piper, has put it - he has changed the catechism to say: 'What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever'. Friends, this is a real challenge to us this evening because we live our lives at times for our own enjoyment. We seek our own pleasure, and we are free - praise God - we are free from the law, oh happy condition, and we're free from the law of sin in our lives as well. If we're truly born-again those habitual sins should be broken from us, but do we realise that it's not just an emancipation to be a free spirit floating around this universe enjoying oneself, but we have been set free from slavery in Egypt to serve the true and the living God! Our freedom has been given to us to enjoy God, but oh if we knew that the greatest enjoyment that we could ever seek and have in life is to enjoy God Himself, and to glorify Him in enjoying Him!
We'll see later on as well that one of the reasons why this freedom has been given to us is because we no longer have those restrictions on us to win the lost. God is glorified not only when we enjoy Him, but He is glorified when we win souls for Him! So, we're saying this evening that the purpose of Christian freedom is to glorify God, and we're also going to see the pattern and the principles for knowing what glorifies Him - how do you know what glorifies Him and what doesn't glorify Him? How do you know when to let certain things into your life, and practices and so on, and partake of them? Well, all these principles are laid down tonight, and I want you, if you have a pen - and I know some of you don't - but these principles will be invaluable for you if you write them down, or if you imbibe them. Young people especially, and I know what you're facing, I faced the same things, the same issues - and you need to know these principles.
The first thing Paul does in the question of how to use your liberty for the Lord, he asks two preliminary questions. The first is: is it helpful? Verse 23: 'All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient' - that word could be 'beneficial', or just simply 'helpful'. Paul, probably, when he was preaching in Corinth, used this phrase 'all things are lawful to me'. He was speaking of the grace of God that he had in Christ, but many of these Corinthians who wanted to delve into their old sin took this phrase up - 'all things are lawful to me' - and used it as a kind of a slogan to legitimise their sin and their backsliding. So whenever Paul says 'all things are lawful for me', and whenever he says that we're now free from Christ, free from the law, free from any regulations and hindrances of our old life or old religion, what Paul does not mean is the old sin of our previous unconverted existence.
That is clear, we've already seen that, but it's important that we take a moment just to refresh our memories - chapter 6, if you turn back to it, this is where we find this same statement again in verse 12. But we don't want to look at that, just verses 9 and 10: 'Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?'. So when Paul says 'all things are lawful for me', it does not bring into that umbrella term anything that is sinful, or unrighteous, or breaks the moral law of God - and he gives us a lineation of these things: 'Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed...', and so on. So 'all things are lawful for me' always refers to things that are not sinful, matters that are questionable maybe, matters that are grey areas, matters that the Bible doesn't explicitly teach on or give chapter and verse on, but it never refers to anything that is sinful before a holy God.
Now there, before we realise it, is a principle of how we can use our liberty. We must never let our liberty in Christ stray into the areas of sin, because sin never glorifies God. I hope you've got that. Sin doesn't glorify God because sin does not edify. 'All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not'. Now that Greek word 'edify' simply means 'to build a house' literally - bricks and mortar. Many times in the New Testament it's used to describe in a Christian life the spiritual growth, the development, the maturity, if you like the 'up-building' that they experience as they grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. So what Paul is saying here is: you really, in Christ, officially and forensically, are allowed to do anything within measure, but those things that you do - not those sinful things, they're prohibited - but those matters in the grey areas that you're not prohibited, those things have to come under the category of things that will build you up in Christ.
So there is another qualification: these things have to edify, they have to constitute spiritual growth in your life, they have to be profitable for only things that are profitable are able to edify. What he is saying is that you've to desire spiritual benefits, spiritual edification for yourselves and for other people - and if you desire those good things to build you up, you'll not be seeking after sinful things or even questionable things, but you'll be only seeking those things that bring into spiritual maturity, into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ; those things that will benefit you and build you up. So, I wonder if there's maybe a question in your mind about a certain thing tonight, I wonder are you asking now yourself: 'Well it might not be intrinsically sinful, but does it bring me nearer the Lord Jesus? Does it edify me? Does it deepen my spiritual experience?'. Paul said to the Ephesian elders that he had withheld nothing from them that was profitable - Acts 20 verse 20. He called Timothy to be faithful to the Scriptures, 2 Timothy 3:16, because they are profitable for edification. In 1 Corinthians 14 and verse 26 he says: 'Let all things be done for edification' - edifying the church of Jesus Christ. His advice in Ephesians 4:29 to the church there was: 'Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers'.
Now here's the principle borne out: whenever you come to a decision or a practice, and you wonder whether you should do it or not, the Bible has no clear distinction whether it's a sin or not a sin, there's no guidance or prohibition, you need to ask the question first of all: is it right to do this thing? In other words, is it wrong? Is it a sin, and does God prohibit it within His word? If it's not forbidden in scripture, the answer is 'Yes', you can go ahead and do it. But then the next question is: is it profitable? Is it edifying? Is it up-building for me? Will it bring me nearer to Christ? And if it brings you nearer to Christ, well then you can say 'Yes' for a moment, but then you've to go on to the next question which is this: not only is it helpful, but is it brotherly? You see the matter of the Christian life is not just what helps you, what gets you on further in your spiritual maturity, but you've got to take your other brethren and sisters into consideration as well. Does it up-build other people around you? Well it help them, or will it hinder them?
Now if the answer to all those three questions is 'Yes', you can go on and do it, and you can do that thing - whatever it is - to the glory of God. But if the answer to those questions is 'No', even the last question just on its own, you cannot do that thing - not by law, you can do it by law, all things are lawful for you; but you cannot do it to the glory of God. The principle is this, really if I could summarise it in just one quip: edification over gratification. Not what you want, but what edifies your spirit and edifies those around you, and that will rule out anything that is questionable, is on the verge of sinful, or even falls into that category completely.
So, 'Is it helpful?', is the first preliminary question to ask. The second is, 'Is it brotherly?' - is it brotherly? 'Let no man', verse 24, 'seek his own, but every man another's wealth'. Now this is even more demanding! It would be alright if we only had to look after ourselves, but Paul is saying that even if something will build you up spiritually you shouldn't do it if it will not add to the good of others. Now I don't know how you would define that or even illustrate that, but there's bound to be an application to it in some shape or form - and maybe it's specific to your own individual experience. But what he's really saying, if I could paraphrase it like this: you're to put the other person before you! Our concern in the Christian life, and I think so often we forget this, but it's so much of import in the New Testament, is that we're to put other people before ourselves - we're to put the good of our neighbour before ourselves! It's the absolute opposite and contrary to our wicked human nature, but the fact remains that that is what we have to do as Christians, and we've been learning it in Philippians chapter 2 - that we've to seek our brother's benefit, we're to edify them, we're to build them up, we're to esteem one another better than ourselves! Imagine that!
The question when we're considering doing something that maybe the Bible doesn't speak about at all is: 'Well, is it sin?' - if it's sin you can't do it. 'Is it helpful to me?' - if it's not helpful you can't do it; if it is, well, you might be able to do it - if, if, and only if it is helpful to your brother as well! These aren't rules, they're principles. John MacArthur, in his commentary, gave an illustration about a pastor friend of his who, after preaching on this particular passage, had an open time of testimony in the meeting. He asked the congregation to share experiences that they had of giving up something for the sake of someone else. Now apart from one man who stood up and said that he didn't drink or smoke around any other Christians, no one responded - he didn't understand his liberty obviously! But after the service a number of people told the pastor: 'For the first time in my life I have realised that I don't really give up anything for the sake of others'. I wonder if we were to have an open time here now - and I know you don't want your right hand knowing what your left hand's doing - but would you have an instance of giving up something that was dear to you, maybe even was your right in liberty, but you gave it up for the benefit and the sake of someone else?
Now the first principle with regards to ourselves and our brethren is edification rather than gratification, but now here is another principle: others before yourself. If you're wanting to know how you can use your liberty for the Lord, do something that edifies not gratifies, and do something for someone else rather than yourself! That is why Christ has set us free, not to help ourselves, not to feed ourselves, not to gratify ourselves, but to glorify Him and to help others!
So those are the two preliminary questions to ask, and then he leads us on further down this road of principle to three practical scenarios to consider, and they are so practical. Three illustrations - now let me just say that the rabbis, whenever a Jew was living in a city, a pagan city like Corinth, would have put real strong strict prohibitions on the Jews. They wouldn't have been able to go to the pagan market and buy the meat offered to idols even if they didn't know for sure that it was offered to idols, but they had to go only to the shops that sold kosher meat - that is, meat that was acceptable according to the Old Testament law. But as we come here to Corinth where there were many Jews, that was not Paul's policy. Paul didn't go down the rabbinical line, nor ought we! He gives three examples to show us: the first is the marketplace. He says quite simply in verse 25: 'Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake'. So we're not talking about going to the temple and sitting down in idol worship as some of them were doing several weeks ago in our study, but we're talking about going to the shambles, the marketplace, where the meat is sold - and in all likelihood that meat has come from the idol's table, but you're in ignorance of it - and Paul is saying: when you go to the marketplace, don't ask any questions, don't say: 'Now, which is the steak that was offered to the idol, and which is clean of the idol?' - just go, and for conscience sake ask nothing.
Now to some degree that principle counterbalances the previous one. What he's really saying is that the true welfare of others has to be our first concern. We've seen that. If a thing will not edify another we ought not to do it, but now he's coming and counterbalancing this by saying: though that's the case, their standards are not necessarily having to become our standards with regards to the weak conscience. What I mean is: if something offends another person you ought not to do it, but that doesn't mean that you have to start getting offended by the same thing. You should not rule your life by the offences of other people, and you shouldn't go into the legalistic extreme of making great issues out of everything you do. Paul is just trying to put a balance in this, so that these people don't run around obeying every foible that other weak Christians have. When they're in their presence they had to regard and respect their weaker conscience, but that doesn't mean that because they are weak, every time they go down to the market they've to ask what the meat is that's offered to idols.
Paul says in the first scenario: 'Go down to the market, buy your meat, don't ask any questions, and you'll be able to live with a clear and a clean conscience'. The reasoning for that is a quotation from Psalm 24 and verse 1: 'For the earth is the Lord's', verse 26, 'and the fullness thereof'. This meat means nothing to God, meat doesn't commend us to God, an idol doesn't exist as a false God - yes, as we saw last week, if you go up and partake of the actual sacrifice and the ritual you're having communion and are sharing with demons in verse 20 of this chapter - but if you're only going to the market and you don't know it's the meat of an idol, don't make great issues out of everything you do! For, as 1 Timothy 4 says, 'Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer'.
Go to the market, and as long as you're not participating in the pagan idolatrous ceremony, go to the market, buy the meat, go home and cook the meat, put the sauce on it and enjoy it! That's what he's saying, and with this liberty he's saying don't get tied up with legalism, don't become unduly introspective about it. When you take the meat home and put it on the pan, don't be thinking: 'Oh, I wonder is this for an idol or is it not? I wonder is this jinxed in some way with some superstitious spirit?'. He's saying there's no problem with it, don't be laden down by the weak conscience of other believers, go home - and if you're going to do it, do it, and do it without an issue in it, and just enjoy it, and by doing that you'll be doing it to the glory of God!
Now what principle is this? Here's the principle, the first one: edification over gratification. The second: others over self - and now it is this: liberty over legalism, liberty over legalism! Don't let other people entangle you in their legalism, even if you give into it at times because of their weaker conscience, because you don't want to offend a brother for whom Christ has died - fair enough! But don't adopt their legalistic conscience as your own, that's what Paul's saying! Really it's a word to the intense, if you like. He's saying it's possible in these things, even these little religious matters, to become over scrupulous, to be so self-analytical that you get so gazing upon your own navel, so intense, so on a spiritual edge that you can't enjoy anything within the framework of your Christian liberty, and all your freedom in Christ has been robbed from you because of what someone else thinks or what someone else will say!
Oh, here we're getting close to home now, aren't we? The word of God says that the fear of man bringeth a snare. I wonder does this sound like you, that you're so worried about what someone will think or what someone will say, you're looking over your shoulder so much in your Christian life that you can't enjoy your own liberty. What Paul is saying here is: relax, relax! If this thing is not a sin, if it edifies you, if you can do this thing to the glory of God with a clear conscience and you're not harming a weaker brother: relax, enjoy it, and do what God's will is rather than what men's will is! In Ephesians 5 verse 1 he told them to be followers of God, and God help us if we become followers of men rather than followers of God; followers of men's consciences and men's scruples and men's foibles and men's dotted i's and crossed t's rather than God's!
Let me sound a word of warning too, that one of the first steps toward emotional or mental illness is creating problems out of nothing, when there's nothing to make an issue over yet you make an issue over it! And there are some, even in this Hall, that will make an issue over everything and anything just to have an issue and to stand on it! You're on dangerous ground, because when you get like this - I have a friend, and on one occasion he got so intense about seeking after a particular thing that he felt God had promised him that it was destroying his whole Christian experience, it was robbing him of his peace and his joy. An older brother came to him and said to him: 'Remember, whatever you do don't stop, even in seeking after this thing that God has promised you, don't stop enjoying the Saviour!'. There is a danger there, isn't there? Don't stop enjoying the Saviour. There's a woman, Marion H. Nelson, in America who has written a book called: 'Why Christians Crack up' - the causes and remedies of nervous trouble in Christians. Why Christians crack up!
Well, there's the marketplace - what the principle? Don't ask any questions, and eat your meat in a clear conscience. You'll not know whether it's sacrificed to idols, and no one else will know. The second practical scenario to consider is the pagan home. The principle is the same, don't ask any questions and your conscience will be clear. Verse 27: 'If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake'. What he is saying here is that you don't have to go if you don't want to, but if you want to go, if you're disposed to go, whatever is put on a plate on the table in front of you - and I know it would be hard in some instances! - but don't ask any questions - no matter how many questions you might have! - don't ask them, just eat it, and eat it with a clear conscience not needing to know where that particular thing has come from. Don't ask any embarrassing questions. Now incidentally, as we're moving on here let's not miss some things: some people would tell us that we're not to associate or even eat with those who are unsaved. We can clearly see that that is contrary to the word of God, that we are to eat with them, and certainly if you follow the example of our Lord Jesus - and he tells us to do that in chapter 11 verse 1 that we will finish on tonight, to be followers of Christ as Paul was - we will be rubbing shoulders very closely with the ungodly.
Paul is saying that if we go to their house, don't let it bother you that you might be eating food that has been offered as an idol sacrifice, but sit down, enjoy the meal, and do it to the glory of God. Eat anything that is set before you, didn't the Lord say that Himself? Freedom in Christ is the privilege that you have, and it's only to be forfeited when you're offending your other brother - have you got it? It's only to be let go and sacrificed when you're offending the brethren. In Galatians 5 verse 1 he said to them: 'It was for freedom that Christ has set us free, therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery'. They were getting all bogged down in Old Testament law and rituals and regulations. Paul's saying: 'Christ has set you free from all that, don't get bogged down in it again!'. Certainly he teaches us that we're to refrain from anything that could be detrimental to our brothers and sisters, but we should never get into a state within our own hearts where we have any legalistic compulsion - believing that we should or should not do certain things just because another brother's conscience is weak. If we do refrain from our liberty, that is to be for love of them, not from adherence to legalism.
Now let's think about this for a minute, because I really want these principles to sink into our minds and hearts. When we restrict our liberty for the sake of the weaker brother, is that all we do? Do we just stop there? Do we all live for the rest of our days at the beck and call and the mercy of the weaker brother? That's not right at all - but surely when we sacrifice our liberty for the weaker brother we should try in tenderness and in grace to broaden their capacity, their understanding of the Christian freedom that they have, the right that they have, and we should try and help their conscience to grow stronger in order that they may become a Christian that is able to enjoy the freedom and the liberty that they have in Christ, and not restrict their own enjoyment and privileges that they have in Him. but yet the principle is the same here - in the marketplace don't ask questions, you'll be able to eat with a clear conscience; in the pagan home don't ask any questions, and you'll be able to eat with a clear conscience.
Now here's the different one, verse 28: 'But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof'. It's not just, I believe, at the pagan man's table, I think it's at the marketplace, I think indeed that it's anywhere. If you were in a position, and all of a sudden someone said: 'Oh, don't eat that one, don't buy that steak, that was offered to an idol!' - you're to stop in your tracks if you've been told that, you're not to eat; not for your conscience, you shouldn't have a conscience about it, but for that person's conscience you're not to eat. You're not to argue, you're not to condemn them, you're not to insist upon your own freedom...'This is my right, I'm a Christian. I have been set free' - no! For conscience's sake you're to let go of your liberty lest that person - whether he's a weaker brother, or even indeed an unbeliever - lest they be offended in seeing you do that thing.
Let me illustrate it, Charles Swindoll illustrates it like this, and I'm using his illustration - think of the first century, imagine this: you're an active member of the church in Corinth, you're very involved and very respected. You've been invited to a patio party by Rufus and Julia, a non-Christian couple who own the chariot shop on Colosseum Way. They have also invited a young man named Erastus who, unknown to them, has recently come to know the Lord Jesus as his Saviour and become a member of the church that you attend. You all sit down and the meal is served - enjoying your Caesar salad, you look across the table and see a familiar face - it's Erastus, the new believer who has begun attending your church services. You smile and chat a little, and then your attention is diverted by a delicious smelling entree, sirloin steak delicately seasoned and cooked to perfection - and just as you're reaching for your fork, Erastus leans over to you and whispers: 'I just heard the cooks talking about how they were glad so much meat was left over from the sacrifices. You know, that bothers me, because I was involved in idol worship for a long time and I just don't feel right about eating this meat'. What do you do? Mustering all the resistance you have, you leave the meat on your plate and politely say: 'Please pass the grapes, rolls and broccoli', and you skip the meat because an issue was made of it.
Let me bring that into the 21st century for an illustration. Picture yourself going for a meal with another young believer, and you decide to book a table in a licensed restaurant. When your friend enters, all of a sudden you can see that he's not happy about it, and he turns to you and he says: 'Listen, I used to be an alcoholic before I was born-again, and this is a real struggle for me' - what do you do? Do you say: 'Don't worry, the Spirit of God has set you free. Don't worry, I'm free, I can do whatever I like - you're coming with me' - you cancel the booking and you go to McDonald's or wherever you like! The weaker brother has made it an issue - it doesn't mean that for the rest of your life you haven't to go into a licensed place, it would be hard not to these days, because of the weaker brother. No, you don't take his conscience, you don't be bound - even if it is his legalism - you respect his weakness, because it has been made an issue and you cannot offend one for whom Christ has died.
Verse 29 is a bit hard to understand, the second part, he says: 'For why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?'. Some people think he's hypothetically using a question of the liberals, the strong Christian: 'Why should I give into a weaker conscience? Why should I be dictated to by a weak Christian over what I can and cannot do?', but I don't think that's really what he means here. I believe what he is saying is making clear that it's for conscience sake that you give into the weaker brother, not your conscience but their conscience, the other man's conscience! Look at the verse: 'Why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?' - your liberty isn't judged by what someone else thinks is right or wrong. If we ever give into a weaker conscience, it is not because they are right and we are wrong, it is because we love them and we do not want to offend them. It's a subtle distinction, but it's a very important one. We're to modify our actions for the sake of others, but we are not to modify our conscience! We're not to adopt the weaker brother's legalism.
So there's three scenarios: the marketplace, don't ask, eat with a clear conscience; the pagan home, don't ask, eat with a clear conscience; anywhere where you're told, don't eat for the other's conscience sake. Now here we're coming to the conclusion of the whole matter: the two principles the Christian should live by. We've seen the two preliminary questions to ask, the three practical scenarios to consider, and now the two principles the Christian should live by. Verse 31: 'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God' - do all to God's glory. The purpose of using your liberty is not to live it up, not to enjoy your life, but use it carefully, use it selflessly to the glory and the honour and the magnification of Almighty God! I know eating and drinking is within the context of offerings to idols and so on, but it's not just limited to that. Is he not talking about whatever you do in life, even the basic things, every day, the little things like eating and drinking, God is to be glorified in the mundane, in the routine things of life - He can be glorified, and He will be glorified if we do them for Him in the freedom that we have in Christ. Our whole life is to be a life committed to the glory of God in everything we do!
Sometimes people come: 'Should I do this? Is it wrong to this?', now if you just ask the question: 'Can I glorify God in this? Can I edify my brother in this? Can I become more like Christ in this? Is there a doxology of praise and worship and adoration that rises from my spirit to God as I partake and engage in this?' - and if there is not, you cannot and you ought not. It might not be sin in itself - it might be, but even if it's not it may lead to sin as you do it in a bad conscience, or as you cause another brother to fall. Do all things to the glory of God - we could spend a whole series on that, couldn't we? Do we do everything to the glory of God?
The second principle the Christian should live by is: do nothing to offend. Verse 32: 'Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ'. Nothing to offend others! Our living before men should be righteous, loving, selfless, to such an extent - think about this now - that we give no offence to anybody. To either a Jew or a Gentile, we should not put a stumbling block in their way to coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, we should not cause a weaker brother to stumble, in no way should we be causing them to fall - people will be, always, offended at the gospel of Christ, and as we saw in previous weeks if they are offended with the gospel that's their problem - but if they are offended by our lives needlessly, the things that we do, the things that we say, that is our problem! If we do that we dishonour God. Let me say this categorically, without apology: the only offence that should be in us to this world is Christ and the gospel.
Now here's the crescendo: Paul says in verse 33, 'I don't offend anyone, and I do all to the glory of God' - why? What's his reasoning? 'That they might be saved' - the Jews, the Greeks, the people in the church - of course they are saved, but the Jews and the Greeks and the people in the church, what does it do? It covers the whole scope of all humanity. He's saying there's no action of ours that should prevent an unbeliever coming to Christ, nothing that we do! They should never be offended in us, and in fact our liberty allows us not to offend them, our liberty actually allows us to bring the gospel to them without the restrictions of the law - to the Jew I became a Jew, remember that passage? To the Greek I became a Greek, I became all things to all men that I by any means might save some! Boy-o-boy, do we use our liberty to seek the lost?
Now listen brethren, we must never ever make it difficult for a Jew, a Gentile, a person from East Belfast or West Belfast to trust the Lord Jesus Christ - never! The only offence and the only stumbling block should be Christ and His cross! This is when we are in trouble - he says: 'I please all men in all things', that doesn't mean he's a men-pleaser, he's already said in Galatians 1 that he obeys God rather than men. What he's saying is, he's affirming that the fact of his life and liberty and ministry is centred around helping other people rather than promoting himself and his own desires - he's saying: 'Christ has made me free not to live it up, not to just enjoy my Christian life, but He has set me free to use my liberty to win the lost!'. Do we do that? You know, I reckon that Paul at times was misunderstood. I think people point the finger at him and say, I know it, that he was inconsistent - but those were people who didn't understand his principles. You know, I think a large extent of the conservative evangelical church in Ulster doesn't understand his principles either. At times he would eat with the Gentiles, whatever they were eating, the way they were eating. At other times he would eat with the Jews, and he would only eat the kosher food that they were eating, and he would keep the rituals and the laws and everything - not because they were saving him, not because he was communicating that to them, but because he wanted to win them, and he didn't want to offend them with anything but the cross of Jesus Christ. His inconsistency, if I could say this, actually showed his consistency - not consistency with regards to keeping little laws and commands that inevitably would have contradicted one another depending on what community and race he was trying to reach, but he was living consistently with the divine principles that God had revealed to him and he's laying down for us in this chapter.
Let me illustrate it to you like this: a weather vane, you look at it and it looks inconsistent, going up and down. First it points one direction, then to another - but a weather vane is always consistent, it is always consistent when it points to the direction the wind is blowing. It's consistent with the wind, and that is what makes it useful! Liberty, and I have been challenged to the depths of my being today, liberty is to be used to win the lost! But do we not restrict ourselves from winning them by legalism!? Do we not? Oh, don't misunderstand me, I got an e-mail from Andrew who does the website the other day, he says:
I was browsing a few church sites today and visited one in Australia. I read their statement of belief and it seems similar to ours, they don't appear to be Charismatic, and their church is over 100 years old. Sometimes we may find it hard to believe that these things are happening, but their Sunday Morning service was announced as follows:
"Sunday Morning 10:30am
GO BZirk - Entertainment through pop music and circus - Invite your friends and family"'
That's not what I mean when I say using your liberty. Don't misunderstand me, but what I am saying is: are we doing all in our power according to the Scriptures, the remit that we're given, the principles of liberty that are laid down for us, to reach the lost - or are we restricting ourselves with man-made rules?
Let me give you, in closing, a list of these principles - if you want to write them down - to know when and how to do certain things. All things are lawful but:
1) the question you need to ask is: will they lead to freedom or slavery? Will they lead to freedom or slavery? Sin will lead to slavery, 1 Corinthians 6 verse 12.
2) will they make me a stumbling block or a stepping stone? 1 Corinthians 8:13.
3) will they build me up or will they tear me down? 1 Corinthians 10:23.
4) will they only please me or will they glorify Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:31
5) will they help to win the lost to Christ, or will they turn them away? 1 Corinthians 10:33
Let me quote one author as I finish tonight, he says in conclusion to this section: 'The summary of their statement leads to this conclusion: the ideal of Christian behaviour is for the glory of God and helping of man. This imposes a very high principle upon Christians, far higher than 'do this and don't do that', it takes the common pleasures and makes them sacred privileges. It takes eating and drinking, social contacts, companionship, and makes them noble activities. It tells us that the greatest pleasure in life is not the indulgence of self, but the helping of others! Yes, it tells us that our every movement in everyday life can be to the glory of God. The dinner table, the kitchen sink, the school desk, the craftsman's bench can glow with the glory like Moses' bush in the wilderness to the glory of God'.
Can you say tonight: 'All I do is for the glory of God and for the helping of our fellow man'? If you can say that, and if you can do that, you will be the nearest representation of the Lord Jesus Christ in your neighbourhood - because Paul said: 'Be followers of me in this, even as I also am of Christ'.
We're not going to sing our final hymn, we're just going to bow our heads where we're sitting. We've had a long study over these last weeks, I hope it's been worth it just to get these deep principles - but I hope that they've cut further than just your ear and your mind, I hope they've gone into your very heart. Fellowship here in the Iron Hall, I hope this has challenged you tonight over how we're reaching the lost - we're not to compromise our message and we're not to use methods that do that, or demean the message - but I'll tell you, we could be doing an awful lot more than what we are! We're certainly not using your liberty, you'd think we had more rules than the New Testament that's for sure! How are we going to reach them? How are we going to win them? Are we just going to do nothing? I was challenged today about our nation, our nation of Ulster, and one of the main things that has prevented people in the nationalist community receiving the gospel is that the Gospel has been wrapped in some kind of political emblem in their perception. That is unforgivable. I don't care who's looking over my shoulder, I don't care, we are to follow God and follow Christ - and if there's anything in my life that is an offence to someone else, preventing them coming to Christ, other than His cross, it is a sin. Let's not underestimate it. If we take that illustration, surely there is a smaller application of it in our own lives - let's root it out now, let's nail it to His cross, and let us have the freedom of that message of reconciliation pulling down the middle wall of partition - whatever that may be - to us presenting the gospel to those that need it. I tell you, if the woman at the well came to some of us, she wouldn't get in the front door - it's just as well she went to the Master, isn't it? We are to be like Him.
Lord we say: 'Fill Thou our lives, O Lord my God, in every part with praise, that my whole being may proclaim Thy being and Thy ways. Praise in the common things of life, it's goings out and in, praise in each duty and each deed however small and mean'. Lord, help us to live holy lives - not legalistic lives, but lives that are ruled by the principles of love for Thee and love for our brethren and love for the lost. Lord, if we have bound ourselves in shackles of man-made religion and tradition, we pray that You would break us free again, that we may break through with Thee and break out to those that are lost. Let us never compromise the gospel as so many are doing today, but Lord, let us not sit in the armchair of Christian comfort and let the world go to hell for fear of what another older brother will say. We thank Thee that Thou art the God who opens the arms to the prodigal. Lord, may we run into Your arms if we have offended Thee, if like the churches in the Revelation our candlestick is gone or it's going out. Lord Jesus, we repent, and we pray that You will restore the Shekinah to us in our day. Behold You stand at the door, Saviour, and knock - may this church open the door and invite You in, to Your glory we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty-sixth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "How To Use Your Liberty For The Lord" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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